With claims of parity and Cinderellas in tow, the No. 8 Kentucky Wildcats will meet the No. 7 UConn Huskies in the 2014 NCAA championship game—go figure.
Cinderella, no. All the superb matchup proves is that seeds mean little and parity is rampant. Those factors would explain why the biggest heavyweight bout of the month (sorry, Pacquiao-Bradley) between the two programs is of the historic variety, as ESPN Stats & Info explains:
An 8 seed (Kentucky) vs a 7 seed (UConn) in the National Championship -- the highest combined seeds in National Championship history.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) April 6, 2014
Unlike the rest of the tournament, now is a good time for bettors to make some coin. Here's a look at the updated odds and predictions for the most important player from each side.
When: Monday, April 7, at 9:10 p.m. ET
Where: AT&T Stadium, Dallas
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Odds: Kentucky (-2.5), courtesy of Vegas Insider
Key Player Predictions
Julius Randle, Kentucky
A bit lost in the shuffle behind three game-winning shots from Aaron Harrison, Julius Randle continues to be a terror under the rim who has a lengthy pro career in front of him.
He certainly has the attention of NBA minds around the globe, including Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy:
I love Julius Randle's game. I think he'll have a long, successful NBA career. I'm looking forward to watching him develop in the league.— Alex Kennedy (@AlexKennedyNBA) April 6, 2014
Count CBS Sports' Matt Norlander in, too:
It’s been a joy to watch Julius Randle play college basketball. Lived up to the hype.— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) April 6, 2014
Randle has a very tough task ahead against the Huskies, a team that suddenly morphed into a dominant squad in the paint against the No. 1 Florida Gators. Patric Young and Co. were mostly held in check and the Huskies won the battle on the glass.
To that end, the Wildcats are going to need every bit—maybe more—of Randle's averages of 15.1 points and 10.7 rebounds per game. He'll likely surpass those marks as the best performer on the floor for Kentucky.
Whether or not it will be enough is a different story.
Prediction: 19 points, 14 rebounds
Shabazz Napier, UConn
Harrison is getting all of the attention at the moment in terms of biggest name entering the title game, but Shabazz Napier remains the best overall player—and has been since the onset of the Madness.
But credit to Napier for understanding just how dangerous his Wildcats counterpart is, as captured by NBA.com's Adam Zagoria:
Shabazz Napier also says Aaron Harrison has 'that clutch gene'— Adam Zagoria (@AdamZagoria) April 6, 2014
For much of the reason, Napier has wavered a bit in the hype department before the game is because he posted just 12 points against the Gators.
More importantly, he forced SEC Player of the Year Scottie Wilbekin to turn the ball over on three of four plays (via ESPN). This defensive prowess and high-volume scoring ability (he's scored a minimum of 19 points in the other tournament games) makes him the best player on the court and the most important to watch on Monday.
Prediction: 26 points, five assists, four rebounds and two steals
As Vegas notes, this matchup is a proper way to end the Madness between two rather evenly matched teams.
Which team wins?
It's easy to jump on the Kentucky bandwagon. John Calipari hit another recruiting class out of the park, the Wildcats were the preseason No. 1 and are finally living up to that billing.
One problem—the Wildcats barely squeaked past Michigan and Wisconsin, two teams with iffy perimeter defenses that allowed Kentucky's guards to run wild.
If the game is close, then it makes sense to roll with Kentucky. But the Wildcats have to keep it close, and recent stellar defensive performances from the Huskies both in the paint and on the perimeter—paired with big performances from the likes of DeAndre Daniels—suggest UConn is the complete package.
Roll with the more experienced, and seemingly complete team on Monday night.